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FBI arrests man following threatening calls to investigative reporter

February 12, 2020

FBI agents arrested a seminary professor in Buffalo, New York, on Feb. 12, 2020, in connection with death threats made against WKBW chief investigative reporter Charlie Specht.

Specht told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker he had been receiving harassing and threatening voicemails from an unknown caller for nearly six months.

“Then it was kind of a menacing voice and they were leaving messages that were very personal but also they were criticizing my reporting and saying that there were going to be consequences,” Specht said.

WKBW, the local ABC affiliate, reported that the calls began in August 2019, as Specht and the station’s investigative team reported on alleged abuse and corruption scandals at Christ the King Seminary. The voicemails told Specht to end the investigations into the diocese, threatened to end his career and referenced members of his family.

“You’re still a bad Catholic and a horrible reporter,” one voicemail warned, according to the complaint filed against the caller. “I hope to God I don’t see you walking around [town].”

In another, the caller said, “You destroyed the Diocese of Buffalo and Bishop Malone. Oh, you must be so proud. You’re a piece of shit, you really are a piece of shit. You’re not a journalist … and you don’t know how to be a journalist.”

WKBW reached out to law enforcement when the calls began, the outlet reported, but prosecutors needed more information about the caller and the specific nature of the threats.

Specht told the Tracker that the calls kept escalating until Feb. 4 when — moments after Specht gave a live report on the diocese’s announcement that the seminary would be closing — the caller threatened to kill him.

“You must be so happy the seminary’s closing. You’re a bad person. I know where you live,” the caller said. “I’m gonna find you. I’m gonna kill you.”

WKBW decided to cancel Specht’s 6 p.m. live broadcast as a precaution, he told the Tracker.

Specht said that he and his family were shocked and scared by the calls. WKBW hired private security for them and had the family stay in a hotel for a week as prosecutors opened an investigation and assigned an FBI field officer to investigate.

“It was clear that this wasn’t someone who got upset with a news broadcast and did a spur of the moment thing. This was persistent and it seemed like this guy really had it out for me. That’s what really worried us,” Specht said.

The caller, eventually identified as adjunct seminary professor Paul Lubienecki, was arrested and charged with cyberstalking on Feb. 12, accused of making 11 “harassing” phone calls to Specht between August 2019 and February 2020, according to a complaint filed against Lubienecki. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Specht told WKBW that he was grateful the FBI made the investigation a priority.

“Criticism of news reporting is acceptable and even welcomed. But making personal threats against a reporter for simply doing his job goes against the entire American belief in a free press,” he said.

Bishop Edward Scharfenberger, whom the Pope appointed as interim administrator for the diocese, condemned the threats against Specht in a series of tweets.

“There is no place — nor should there be any tolerance — for threats or harassment towards members of the news media or any one else. This is against who we are as Christians, but also against our nation’s founding principles that guarantee freedom to the press and freedom of speech,” Scharfenberger wrote.

Lubienecki was released on a $2,500 bond to await trial. The judge in the case granted a 60-day adjournment for Lubienecki and his attorney to consider possible defenses, and he is scheduled back in court on April 24.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]

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